I have accidentally stolen a bike because of my fear of embarrassment. There are lots of other things we can fear – shame, pain, failure and conflict, to list a few. We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we continue to act in fear, instead of facing the problem. This just compounds the problem, like in my bike story.
When I lived in Japan in 2016, I rode my bike everyday to the train station that took me to school. I locked it where all the others were parked and then when I came back later that day, I went to where I thought I left my bike and used my key… which didn’t unlock it!
I knew that there were plenty of other bikes that looked just like mine, but I was stubborn and adamant that this one was mine. Truthfully, I didn’t want to go to each one and try the lock, because I stood out enough in Japan – I didn’t want to cause more attention and embarrass myself. I felt like doing that would look like I was trying to break into the bikes, or something like that. Looking back, I realise that kind of embarrassment is definitely not the worst thing to happen.
A few teenagers came to help me and after a while of wiggling the key, we decided we’ll take the bike to a nearby locksmith. They all helped me carry it and the locksmith cut off the lock and put on a new one with a new key. Huzzah! After thanking everyone and riding to my host home, a month passed and a policeman came knocking.
From what I could understand, (my Japanese wasn’t very good at that point) it was normal for policemen to check if the number on your bike is the same one on its paperwork. When I heard that the number was different, my suspicion was proven to be correct. I stole someone else’s bike. I still feel terrible about it – bikes aren’t cheap, the person who owned it probably needed it to travel and I can only imagine how devastated they’d be. All because I didn’t want to embarrass myself! In fact, trying not to embarrass myself just embarrassed myself more.
At that time I was afraid of looking stupid, which is a common fear that I have. I’ve been thinking lately about what else I am afraid of. It feels like I have become more scared of things than when I was a child. I loved adventure and I had no fear of death while doing dangerous things. I felt invincible. Now I’m scared of the dark again because that’s when I hallucinate the most. I’m scared of monsters under my bed again because it always feels like the alien and monsters are close. My second time in a psychiatric ward in 2019 lasted for nearly 2 months because of my psychosis. Ever since, I’ve been so scared. A lot of that fear is trauma, disability and mental health related.
There are other fears I have, such as trusting myself, leaving the house, socialising, people judging me, being a waste of space, homophobia, letting my disabilities limit me, vulnerability, losing those I love, loneliness and failure. And the list goes on! I asked Cassandra, my partner, what are her fears. Immediately she said mediocrity, another fear that I share with her, and then said isolation, meaninglessness, people and poverty. There are so many different kinds of things you can be afraid of. Everyone’s fears are unique to them, but also many are something you share with others.
Fears are formed to protect ourselves from hurt. There are different kinds of fears – ones that are helpful and others that aren’t. An example Cassandra gave was being afraid of snakes, which is a built in “survival” way of thinking, and isn’t an important fear to conquer, as it serves us and our safety. However, overcoming a fear of people has benefits such as connecting with others, as well as combating loneliness and anxiety.
I have asked myself the question of “how do I deal with fear” and it’s made me reflect on how I experience fear in my daily life. One of my biggest achievements lately is regularly going outside. In the past, the more I stayed inside, the scarier the outside seemed and the more anxious I became. So how did I overcome (more or less) this fear?
The first thing that comes to mind is that I was compassionate and empathetic to myself. I didn’t beat myself up for not going outside, because that would compound the problem and lead to more fear. There was no rush, there was no pressure, because I find that the more I am “forced” to do something, the more I don’t end up doing it. My psychiatrist recommended to me to go outside everyday. At first that seemed impossible and the first time he told me to do that I didn’t listen.
But it’s a bit more than just being compassionate, understanding and empathetic towards myself – I also need to seize the opportunity on days when I have more energy or I am mentally in a better place than usual. In times like that, I simply took the leap and was brave. Cass said to me the opposite of fear is love and that courage means “whole heart,” which shows how love is brave. Sometimes overthinking a situation can be a barrier against facing your fears. It seems so fucking hard, but it IS possible.
Sometimes you have to put yourself in “uncomfortable” situations (or worse) as to move forward and expand your comfort zone. The first few times it exhausted me to go outside. I was constantly paranoid and anxious about seeing someone I knew, because I was so down about my appearance, as well as my current lifestyle. I was afraid of seeing those who hurt me, with how upset I would be and how having them see that I’ve put on weight would give them the satisfaction of “winning.”
All of the above is fear based on possible consequences that might not even happen. Would it really be that bad if someone saw how I currently look like? Would people that matter actually judge me for my lifestyle or my mental health? You should ask what these fears have to show you, because perhaps it will lead to growth and insight. However, the important thing to do is to distinguish what is the kind of fear we need and what fears we have convinced ourselves that we need.
Yesterday Cass and I went for a drive and we stopped at a lookout, I looked down at the road beneath us and remarked on how small a car looked. It looked like I could just pluck the car from the road with my fingers. However, the car was so big when it was close – it was scary and threatening. But when the car drove away far from me, it looked tiny. It’s still a car in both situations, but changing your perspective can help you deal with it.
Pretend that you are looking down at a fear that you have, such as failure. You remember that when it is close-by it feels like life or death. It’s loud, in your face, with passengers that yell things at you like, “You’re worthless!” or “You’ll never accomplish anything in your life!” When it drives past, it threatens to run you over, instilling more fear. However it was an empty threat and soon it has driven away.
When you see this exact same fear below you, the fear of failure seems small and quiet. You hear faint voices coming from it that you can tell aren’t nice, but it’s far away, not personal and not immediately threatening. The safety in distance allows you to look at the fear without feeling and with logic – it is not going to kill me. That fear of failure is the same as the one that’s close-up, so it’s important to not believe its lies. It can’t make you anything less than you are, because you are not your fears.
Usually, overcoming your fears doesn’t mean it’s gone forever, but rather you have it in chains – there’s still a possibility that it can bite if you let your guard down, but you also have control over it. A book called The Happiness Trap talked about the “passengers” on your boat and it’s the same thing – your fears will always be on your boat and you can’t make them disappear. However, it will hurt you less over time if you assert your boundaries AND if you make friends with it.
The “making friends with it” part is the hardest. However, if you stop fighting it and start looking behind the scary face, you just might find things that are useful and helpful. A fear of failure that is a friend may help you stay on top of your work so that you are reliable and diligent. A fear of loneliness can motivate you to go to the social events, where you can meet new people. You might be surprised what your fears may teach you.
It’s okay to be afraid. It’s not your fault and you are not bad if your fears are messing up your mind. But I hope that through reading this you have a better mindset about it. Funnily enough, you don’t need to fear fear. It can help you, it can teach you things about yourself and the world around us, and you are strong enough to overcome it, at a compassionate pace that is best for you. Remember, when you encounter fear, try not to let it be in control with full reign, because that will make the problem worse. Instead, we need to face it. Fear me, fear.